In the heart of Western Michigan are picturesque rural towns where wild animals are free to roam.
For many folks living in Marion and surrounding towns, local farms are their livelihood. But serene fields are a backdrop to a raging battle between farmers and the government.
says Mark Baker. He has been raising pigs for 15 years. Baker and his family live off their family farm called Baker’s Green Acres and he takes pride in letting his pigs and piglets rove free on the farm. But now the Department of Natural Resources in Michigan has deemed the pigs an invasive species. Farmers have been ordered to slaughter every last one of the pigs and piglets and farmers that don’t comply now face being charged with a felony.
But Baker refuses to mass slaughter his pigs.
"If the DNR is going to make me do it, they can do it…they can pull the trigger themselves," he says.
Others say they had no choice but to execute their own animals.
"It’s very sad. All I see are tracks of animals that used to be here," says Dave Tuxbury.
Tuxbury’s plot of land in Fife Lake, MI was once thriving with hundreds of healthy pigs.
"They're were out playing around. It's a fun way of raising animals because you can sit out and watch them and you can tell that they're a happy pig, if there's such thing as a happy pig, these were really happy pigs," says Tuxbury.
But today, the pen is empty. He says he and his fellow farmers were forced to exterminate their swine before the April 1, 2012 deadline.
"You had to take the ,om out first or you would have to watch your back because she'd get pretty angry at you…you would have to shoot her first and then round out the piglets and shoot them also," explains Gary Gile, a farmhand that works with Tuxbury.
"There were small piglets, and there wasn't enough meat on them to do anything with. Some of them we sold for pennies on the dollar, a lot of the sows of course had young inside them, ready to give birth, so they just got buried," Tuxbury adds.
Some farmers are calling the government mandate pig genocide.
"If you're found with any of these animals on your property, then you'd be fined, you'd be jailed and you'd have a felony, as well as they would kill any animal," claims Tuxbury.
So what’s so bad about these pigs for the government to demand they be wiped off the face of the state? Michigan DNR did not answer our repeated interview requests, but their website argues that feral swine pose a problem because they host parasites and diseases that threaten humans and animals, and can cause extensive damage to the environment
Farmers say that’s hogwash.
"Our hogs were the healthiest ones in the state, because we tested every single one that died. Every pig that we harvested, I would take vile of blood and I would send hundreds of these to the state of Michigan to get them tested every year," Tuxbury says.
Michigan DNR also asserts the pigs can get aggressive and attack humans when cornered or threatened.
But according to farmers that raise them — not these pigs.
"When they're outside like this, they're in their environment, you see the tails going back and forth, we could take a tour in there and they might want to sniff you a little bit,” says Baker.
So what’s really behind the law? Farmers have their suspicions.
“My gut feeling is you got lobbyists, you have the white pork industry, anti-hunters, anti-guns, they always seem to have more money than the good guy trying to make a decent living," says Gile.
“I think that what they're getting at is they want kinds that are raised in confinement, in an operation or CAFO, I think that they think that would be acceptable because they can control those animals," adds Baker.
Operations where pigs are mass raised in confinement and barely see the light of day.
The Michigan Pork Producers Association stands by the government invasive species order. Their website states, “We must defend and uphold Michigan’s ban on these destructive disease-carrying animals and close the door to all invasive species”
But the pigs the big pork businesses consider a threat are the same that local farmers have counted on for years.
"They've already shut this business down. I cannot sell these animals live, and this is half of what my income is," says Baker.
It’s a fight for their livelihood; a way of life Baker’s now battling to keep in court.